Kickball and the Kingdom

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“Honey, a dumb kickball game is not one of my priorities right now! I have too much to do around here!”

I huffed and puffed about this time commitment, and this wife’s heart was anything but submissive.

I hung up the phone with my knuckle, since our conversation was had while I franticly tried to keep up with the mess that was being made…breakfast dishes scattered across kitchen. four loads of laundry to be folded. many more to be washed. my desire to get some blogging done. the house projects still needing to be tackled.

“Doesn’t anybody realize how much WORK is required for a family with six kids?!? I don’t have time for some church kickball game!”

The church where we are doing a residency program before we launch our church plant has a summer kickball league on Saturdays….the day when I try to get “caught up” on life.

but the minute I hung up the phone, I was convicted that I needed to submit to my husband’s request that I show up with the kids for the sake of community and fellowship.

I pull up to the field. forty-five minutes late.  (by the time you get 6 kids dressed, and fight the seat belt battle, and settle a few sibling tiffs and tempter tantrums, that was record time!)

Right across from the field a group of about 20 African Americans, march with signs about the racist shooting in Charleston last Wednesday.

I cringe as I realize I am a white person driving around in an all black neighborhood, right when racial tension is at its height.

I wonder what these individuals think of me….

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On the field was a smattering of whites, black, tan (Asian), and dark tan (Indian) bodies.  All friends, all gathering together to enjoy one another and fellowship.

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Receiving kickball instructions

I realized that this was far more than “a dumb kickball game”.

This kickball game was a display of the Kingdom.

Why would people of so many different colors, ethnic backgrounds, and economic statuses join together?

it was for more than a dumb kickball game.

It was because a group of people, who all need the Same Savior, to the same extent, gather from all parts of the city in order to know Him better, worship him more freely every Sunday… and throughout the week.

This is my Church.

And when racial tensions strain to new levels, Gospel love is creating a bond and unity amongst races, ethnicities, and socio economic disparities.

And that group of protestors, might ask questions about this diverse splattering of skin colors out on the field. Ask who we are and what we are doing.

And we tell them we are the Body of Christ.

We are a kingdom preview of Revelation 17:9

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

We love Jesus.

And we like to play kickball.

 

 

 

 

From the Mouths of Babes….or young lads who challenge the home or hospitality mentality.

The curtain rod fell down on my head as I balanced on a stool for the tenth time that day, all with hyperactive children running all around me a few feet below. I half caught it and then slammed it down on the stack of boxes below.

“I can’t get anything done around here! I can’t even get curtains hung!”

Danny tries to calm me.

“Honey, its OK. It will come together eventually. ”

“But I’m so tired of not being settled! I just want everything in its place and I want our house to be done!”

Danny could have talked til he was blue in the face, but it was my son’s words that penetrated.

“Mom, nobody in our neighborhood even has curtains. Why do we need them? Right now we’re just like everybody else.”

Oh, how his words sunk in. put this nesting mamma in her place. put priorities in order.

My neighbor's make-shift curtains, which is how my entire neighborhood "does" curtains

My neighbor’s make-shift curtains, which is how my entire neighborhood “does” curtains

What does it really look like to come from a “different culture” but choose to become one with the culture we have moved into?  What does it look like to to truly become incarnational in this context? Right here in America, where I can drive 15 minutes to a friends house and see beautiful tapestries hung and in place?

Maybe it means prioritizing people above the picturesque home I desire.

Maybe it means enjoying children more than enjoying neatness and order.

Maybe it means welcoming neighbors into a home that still has boxes stacked in the corners and walls still to be painted, simply because today I choose people over projects, the “to BE” list, rather than the “to-DO list”. 

Do I choose to spend the afternoon preparing a meal for houseguests who will then experience the meal in God's word? Or do I spend the afternoon tackling the boxes?

Do I choose to spend the afternoon preparing a meal for houseguests who will then experience the meal in God’s word? Or do I spend the afternoon tackling the boxes?

We chose the houseguests, and the Bible study.

We chose the houseguests, and the Bible study.

and let the stack of pictures to be hung just sit there.

and let the stack of pictures to be hung just sit there.

I don’t completely forsake the chipping away at household projects, or the desire to create beauty, order and grace in a home. For now, the slowness of the process can be embraced as a needed process of soul sanctification, neighbor identification, and it becomes far bigger than just my home transformation.

After all, maybe Liddell, who lives in a home with a blue tarp roof,

IMG_7635would feel far more welcomed into a home that is also making good use of large blue tarps

our backyard and the blue tarps...what drives me crazy, might actually drive our neighbors towards us rather than away from us.

our backyard and the blue tarps…what drives me crazy, might actually drive our neighbors towards us rather than away from us.

Every neighbor in this area lives in a home that needs work done on it, and despite my desire to “just be done” with house projects, being in this state of process might be the very thing that unites us instead of divides us from our neighbors.  Those walls needing paint, and that unlandscaped yard, and that pile of building supplies, might be the very thing that keeps the “us and them” mentality at bay…the very “us and them” mentality that left this neighborhood so forsaken those years ago.

So maybe with a death of my desire,

a desire that feels so natural and justified to me,

actually creates a void

in which new life can emerge,

the life of a neighborhood connection,

a commonality,

an identification,

a “with”ness,

that creates a platform for

witness.

Which in the end, is far more important, far more eternal, than curtains being hung.

~~~~~

Guests in our home, AND the curtains were hung (in the backdrop) both desires fulfilled, but not until patience was learned.

Guests in our home, AND the curtains were hung! (in the backdrop) Both desires fulfilled, but not until patience was learned.

 

 

Eventually those boxes were unpacked.

Eventually those boxes were unpacked.

The house looked like this when we moved in...

The house looked like this when we moved in…

And looks like this now. PROGRESS!!

And looks like this now. PROGRESS!!

Progress, but not perfection...still little things needing to be done!

Progress, but not perfection…still little things needing to be done!

 

The Trials ARE the Training

We’ve sat in seminars. Visited hotel conference rooms and small group brainstorming sessions. We have been “trained” to be church planters.

Don’t get me wrong, these things are good and necessary things, but nothing is quite like

the training that trials bring.

Since moving to Atlanta, with a vision to plant churches that keep planting churches, one block at a time,
we have hit multiple trials at a time.

Toxic black mold ordeal, and losing all of what we owned.

coming head to head with witchcraft and voodoo curses from our international neighbors.

A car crash. flooded basements…FOUR times. an incredibly difficult pregnancy. depression. a motorcycle crash. near death baby delivery. another basement flood. very sick four year old. broken collar bone. broken finger. ripped up shoulder. extensive shoulder repair surgery. postpartum depression. root canal. enough medical bills to repave the pot-holed streets of Atlanta. a half renovated house with no more money to finish it. All while keeping up with the constant needs and and schedules of six children.

When you move forward into God’s calling on your life, don’t expect things to get easier, expect them to get harder.

For the trials are the training.

Yes, they may be spiritual warfare, but they are also purposed battles which God has ordained for us to engage in. And with each battle, one gains strength as you learn to gird up your sword and fight for joy and fight for trust and fight for savoring this moment hidden away in the Presence of the Prince of Peace, even when everything external seems to be exploding, and everything internal seems to be imploding.

And that training….its not even really about YOU. Yes, you are strengthened, but you don’t get strong for strength’s sake. You get strong for the Glory of God, to show HIS strength in you in trials. And He’s preparing you for greater service, greater empathy, and greater compassion towards others.

~~~~~~

I didn’t start to see it until a few wonderful and crazy, and faith-filled and fear-plagued people started preparing to join our launch team. And then the constant unraveling, the impetuous kinks in the plan, the crushing weights of a life in upheaval that we have experienced these past 18 months started pressing into those dear ones as well. And I saw.

I saw that in this church planting endeavor, we are leading people into rocky waters. Thrilling, refreshing, but rocky nonetheless.  And if we had not had to learn to stand as the waves of hardship, frustration, financial strains, and struggle crashed into us, then we would have no voice of hope to continue to beckon them into these stormy waters where we get to meet the One who says “Peace, be still.”

Our dear little launch team has already seen stolen passports and social security cards, lost jobs, deaths of loved ones, struggle to find housing, struggle to find local work, disappointments over not getting accepted into the local schools, houses being broken into and cars being stolen. All soon after saying “yes” to the call . We have seen God provide along the way, strengthen when we had none, and shine brightly in the darkness of our confusion and fatigue. And now they will get to as well.

And it won’t simply just be for their training, it will be for their infilling.  They will come to the end of themselves, and cry out to the Living God to fill them, and then, and only then, will they have anything to offer those around them.

One of our brave launch team members, savoring the quiet of baby cuddles as she walks through the storm of trials.

One of our brave launch team members, savoring the quiet of baby Judah cuddles as she walks through the storm of trials.

Easter Celebration~ Prayer Resurrection~God’s Kingdom Perfection

**My apologies for the extreme delay in this update…I’ve been very busy…busy cleaning up potty accidents, and putting out sibling rivalry fires, and cleaning more dishes and doing more laundry than one can keep track of. I wish I had something “more significant” as an excuse, but every load of laundry is a Kingdom investment when done unto our King.

Easter, three weeks after the move-in.

Easter, the climax of God’s redemption.

And for us, a display of prayer resurrection.

For months, while we were consumed with renovations and the struggle to simply GET there, “all” we could do was pray.

To do the “work on our knees”.

We laid out the promises of God….promises-turned- prayers for God to work at our little tabernacle that we had been working on for so long.

“May God be gracious to us and bless us, and make his face shine upon us, 

that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.” 

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Lord, may the nations be blessed through this home.  May your salvation and your ways be put on display in this place.

 “…for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Isaiah 56:7 

Lord, may all nations be able to gather here to pray and meet you. 

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3 

Lord, would your Spirit go before us, to prepare the way for YOU to work through us. Make highways into the lives and hearts of people to meet you.

 “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. ” John 17:20-21

Lord, cause the Believers in this place come together as one.  May we work towards the same aim of bring your shalom, your peace, to this place. 

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Lord, may true disciples be raised up and formed in Grove Park.  May you lead us to those that are ready to be discipled and who will want to follow you and will raise up others to do the same.

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Isaiah 55:1

Lord, would you go before us and put a hunger in people’s hearts for You and Your Word which satisfies so richly. 

And then, as Easter approached, and I unpacked a few more boxes….

 “Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take
their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God”.  Luke 13:29

Lord, we didn’t plan ahead, but please bring to our table anyone who needs a place to celebrate your Resurrection with us.

And 48 hours before Easter, I didn’t know who all would come, but I planned to lay out a feast in faith that God would bring whoever needed a “family”.

And they started to come.

An international student from Rwanda.

Our Rwandan friend

Our Rwandan friend

Kenyan Christians just reeling from the news of the slaughter in their homeland.

Kenya, Rwanda, Japan, and Atlanta represented here!

Kenya, Rwanda, Japan, and Atlanta represented here!

Our former neighbor and now close friend, whose family is from India.

My friend, and former neighbor whose family is from India

My friend, and former neighbor whose family is from India

Friends that we had made from our life in suburbia of Atlanta, who once had been homeless but had now stabilized,

A woman from Cameroon, (who had randomly known our Haitian neighbor) and started coming to our sending church with us (and became a member!), who we had lost contact with but joined us last minute anyways.

Compton, who didn't have anyone to spend Easter with

Compton, who didn’t have anyone to spend Easter with

Then our Muslim neighbor, and our seventh-day Adventist neighbor, and a guy from our church, and our own rowdy crew and on it went….

Our gracious neighbor who ran extension cords to our house when we first moved in with no electricity

Our gracious neighbor who ran extension cords to our house when we first moved in with no electricity

all gathered at that kitchen island that a sweet friend had built for us

to feast on food, and fellowship, and the joyful declaration,

HE IS RISEN!

And that was just the beginning….

After our feast we migrated over to another “intentional neighbor”‘s house. A sweet friend and fellow Believer who has lived in the community for four years now.  We did a Scripture egg hunt and then a candy egg hunt on the big lawn in the middle of our community.  On my way over, I stopped by a house where I had invited the kids to the egg hunt just a few days prior.  As they prepared to come, another neighbor asked…

“You doin’ and Easter egg hunt for the kids? There’s a bunch of kids up that way that would wanna come..” And then the word started traveling up the street.  A bunch of kids and even a teenage girl hopped in the car, with others promising to meet us “over there”.

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When it was all said and done, there were nearly thirty kids gathered on the back deck, a handful of teens and a smattering of parents, all listening intently to the story of Christ’s death on the cross, his burial and his resurrection. Songs, a testimony, and a chance to invite this Risen Savior into one’s life and heart ensued. Neighbors had gathered to celebrate the beautiful Resurrection.

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After the massive candy egg hunt, kids played football, neighbors gathered on the front porch, Danny engaged the teen guys who had come down, and we enjoyed the beautiful day that God had given us.

Together.

So many people gathered together for Celebration over our Savior’s victory.

And my heart throbbed with joy for the prayer resurrection of all those seeds of prayer buried deep into the heart of a Father who hears his children’s cry to see Kingdom perfection.

And then, if that weren’t enough… God was about to show me just how extensively He had been answering all those prayers prayed.

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on the lawn of “pioneers” who moved into the community four years ago and are creating beauty through home and lawn and the presence of Jesus in their lives

~~~~~~~~

I pulled up to the tiny house that is “home” to more people than I can keep track of. I drop a handful of kids off, and then meander over to Tamiya’s dad’s truck, where he sits talking to all the neighborhood men, the ones who congregate at “the spot” to chat and sip away at their Budweisers all day. I introduced myself to him and apologized for keeping her so long.

“That’s OK. I’m just hang in’ out anyways. Hey, do you guys know of any kind of programs that mentor girls?”

You, mean, discipleship?!?

I think in my heart.

“Yah, my girl, she’s a good girl, but her mom and I split, and she don’t go to a good school, and she’s getting caught up with the wrong crowd. I know my girl is smart. She used to read all the time, but she really need some sort of mentor in her life to help give her direction, cuz she keeps mess’in up in school.”

And we had a long talk about parenting, and the Gospel, and the power of prayer, all amidst the other guys interjecting,

“You said your husband’s a pastor?”

“When you gonna start prayer meetin’ s or something’? I’ll come, I need to get back with God again.”

“I wanna be part of stuff too.”

“Can my kids go to church with you?”

And then we all prayed right by that beat up red pick up truck. We prayed for our neighborhood, for Tamyia, for the struggle of parenthood, and we thanked Jesus that, because of His death and resurrection, we could have His presence right there with us.

And we had “church” right there on the side of the street.

And it reminded me of the way Jesus use to do it. Along the road. As he came and went. Meeting people where they were. His Kingdom Perfection, amidst an imperfect world. His Resurrection, all making it possible.  And the Celebration that happens when we get to witness and participate in it all.

  

The Move, the Emotions, and the Empathy

I had dragged little people down there at 8pm, with sleeping bags, a paintbrush, and a large cup of coffee in hand.

We made makeshift beds for them on the carpet padding, and then got to work.

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Our kids “corner” for sleeping or watching movings….nail free, and fairly clean.

 

Always fighting back panic with song.

But the panic gained ground.

and gave way to panicked pleading.

Please, God, please. Work a miracle in this place and please, please, please let it be ready for us to move in  in two weeks!

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Little ones in a work zone is….stressful. to say the least.

 

I swept up a pile of sheetrock and spackle dust. Sending the dust swirling into the air…

and onto anything nearby.

Sweeping up sheetrock dust, the Lord met me.

Sweeping up sheetrock dust, the Lord met me.

Visions of me endlessly wiping the dusty stuff off our furniture that would have to be moved in to a work zone because our lease had run out, flashed through my mind.

A phone call from our dear ministry partner, Chuck, who lives a few blocks away, led to the discussion of the fact that we had no kitchen counters and no kitchen sink.

“That’s OK” I said, only half believing it, “people all over the world function without kitchen sinks.”

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BEAUTIFUL cabinets redone by my artist friend….but with no kitchen sink or countertops on them.

 

As we hung up the phone, it hit me.

Every emotion I was walking through, with thoughts of moving my kids into an unsafe environment, into a living condition hazardous to human flourishing, and all the tension that comes along with it…

…the inner turmoil that come with instability, without a place to call home and settle down in…

….every extra strain because of financial constrictions that hinder you from being able to just do what you need to do to take care of your family….

….functioning without hot water, electricity, and yes, even kitchen sinks…

is experienced every day

in this neighborhood.

Most women do it without a spouse, and with just as many children as I have, and without a support system praying for them and helping them.

The feelings of being stuck and trapped in circumstances are exactly where God wanted me.

It was an introduction into the neighborhood.

into their emotional world.

And realizing that, helped lift the panic, and submit to the plan, God’s plan, knowing it was all part of His training and preparation for me to be able to love my new neighbors from a place of mutual understanding.

So when, 36 hours before we were had to have every item that 8 people own out of our rental house, right as I finished taping up the last “kitchen” box with everything needed to feed those 8 people, I got a phone call telling me we had failed our electrical inspection and Georgia Power had immediately cut the line to our home, I fully walked in those emotions…

instead of fighting them.

I found myself in more of a place of receiving rather that restricting.

Receiving the education, and the experience the Lord was giving me,

rather that trying to control, constrict and throw a conniption over my frustration.

And from the very beginning of our move, we were forced into a place of receiving…for we had to call on neighbors to run massive extension chords to help light lamps to finish the painting, and the installation of the kitchen sink, and then run a space heater to keep an Iverson crew warm until the power got turned back on Tuesday morning.

We saw God do miracles with changing the hearts of those working on the electrical situation.  We saw His provision through our Muslim neighbor who ran the extension chord.  We saw His care threw our black neighbor who helped with painting and has become a friend and declared “this is crazy…I’ve never been friends with a white man before”. And we see His faithful steady care as little by little appliances have been provided, work has been done, friends have shown up help with little projects, so that we could start unpacking boxes….and this home, it is becoming a haven.

A haven, not just for us, but for those who for their whole lives,  have been walking through the tension and stress that I endured for just a few weeks.

Watch the slideshow to see some of the transformations:

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I witnessed a miracle….

I trucked my little ones down there, armed with snacks, action figures, and a laptop to play movies on…

…Desperately trying to make progress on a project that seems impossible.

I walk into a house that is suppose to be “home” to a family of eight in just three short weeks, and it looks like this:

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As I entered the mess and chaos, and with it, the enormous to-do list, I started…

singing.

Something welled up inside me to declare,

I don’t care what kind state this place is in, it is going to be a place where Jesus Christ is worshipped. 

Don’t get me wrong, this house renovation has been a vacillating faith walk for me these past several months.  I have laid this house before King Jesus more times than I can count, praying boldly that it would be like the Tabernacle of the Old Testament, in which God already had all the details and measurements in mind for it. He anointed men to work on it and build it and He even lined up all the materials for it. And then it became a place of reverent worship unto Him. (mmm…that sounds vaguely familiar to the book that is in the process of being written) And I pray diligently and I believe faithfully, and then…

every time I would show up to the work site, all my faith would quickly run down the drain…a drain that looks like the paint-covered, spackle-crusted one that is suppose to give my babies baths in three weeks.

But today, today I would choose to sing, and declare the praises of my Lord in a place and situation that seems too impossible for human hands to fix. 

I check my phone to see what the weather is suppose to be like on Saturday, a day scheduled for volunteers to come and help with fixing up the place.

One of the coldest weekends of the winter predicted… too cold to paint, too cold to work outside in our demolition-site-appearance of a yard.

I lay that before King Jesus too, for He is Lord of weather and warmth.

Saturday morning, after a 4:00 am rising, we re-enter a house that still looks like it did earlier in the week.

And this time, a new battle cry, or maybe heart submission stirs.

Lord, I know I made that inner vow months ago, “There is NO way I’m moving my family into an unfinished house.” But, Lord, if you have given us the faith to move into this neighborhood, you can give me the faith to move into a house that isn’t completely finished. Faith from YOU can enable me to do and endure anything. I surrender it all to your will. 

And then I started singing again.

For when your own efforts can do little to change circumstances, your heart efforts in sacrificial praise and thanksgiving can.

9 a.m people start rolling in…people I have never met before. People who just got wind that a family needed help with their house renovations. Master organizers started cleaning and sorting the tools and supplies strewn all over the place. Skilled workers who actually knew how to fix porches and put trim up and spackle sheetrock rolled in. Skilled painters came in who painted cabinets and walls and closets. And skilled chefs brought food to nourish working individuals.

 

Danny sharing the vision for our move to Grove Park

Danny sharing the vision for our move to Grove Park

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God miraculously brought hands and feet to help us get this job done

 

And the sun came out. And the temperature rose. And in 55 degree weather people joyfully filled an entire dumpster with all the scrap materials that cluttered the yard, and in bright sunshine men fixed rotting wood on the porch, and in a warm breeze we later gathered to eat lunch and talk about how God is stirring…doing something mighty in this place.

reconstructing a porch that had been eaten by termites

reconstructing a porch that had been eaten by termites

It used to look like this

It used to look like this

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Later in the day we gathered in the driveway to eat and fellowship in the warm sun

 

And as I bustle about getting supplies for different projects and giving direction to different “crews” I keep saying.

This is a miracle.

THIS is a miracle.

This is a miracle!

Hope bloomed bold in my heart. Maybe, just maybe, we will move into a (mostly) finished house. And if we don’t, my heart is in a place to receive that, too, with thanksgiving. And thanks to the wonderful people who showed up, I now know how to cut, install, and spackle sheetrock. Which makes all of the other jobs around the house more “learnable”. (I mean, who says, a mom of six can’t finish sheet rocking the basement, or  learn how to place tile in a bathroom, or lay a backsplash in the kitchen?!?)

By the end of the day, FORTY individuals had come through that house. Some worked for two hours, some for 8. Some were 7 years old and some were 65. Some were skilled carpenters and some were kids who just picked up trash or sanded re-usable trim.

There is still MUCH to be done, but this mamma has witnessed a miracle. And what I see happening in a physical building, I am praying for in the human hearts of my new neighbors, in myself, as we build, not only a house for my kids to dwell in, but a community of Jesus followers for my Savior to dwell in.

After all, I have witnessed a miracle.

God is building us a tabernacle, so that we can be His hands and feet to build His Tabernacle.

A Tabernacle of people who are His, who believe their God and witness His miracles.

To watch a short video of Danny sharing the vision before the work day two weeks ago, click HERE. 

 

 

 

 

Little Glimmers of God’s Work

A little girl in our home lost her first tooth this past week…

….and a mother caught a glimpse of God’s work.

 

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That five year old was thrilled to show all of her friends, including her “best” friend, our neighbor, who spends the afternoons and most evenings with us while she waits for her dad to get back from work. The two girls worked together during “homework time” to craft Katy-Grace’s first tooth fairy letter.**

This best friend (who is a single child) has become part of our family…and she has experienced the good, bad and ugly of our family.  She experienced our intentionality in building relationships when we first moved into our home. She experienced the massive dinners and the joyful whirlwind of children in and out of the house. Then she experienced my pregnancy days when I was so tired and overwhelmed that all I did was scream at my children. She has experienced bickering and complaining and the loudness and craziness of our home. She has experienced times when I intentionally discipled hearts through the “so-and-so isn’t including me!”, but she has also been there when I called from behind locked bedroom door “Just work it out!!”

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She might be five years older than Katy-Grace, but they are still the best of friends

 

She has experienced the rhythms of this family life…that homework has to be completed before playtime. That evening chores have to happen before dinner. That laundry still has to be put away even if they are in the middle of deep imaginative play. That vegetables are eaten at dinner whether they like it or not. She has sat with us through family devotions many a night, even when she would have rather gone home or continued to play. (the policy in our house is: if we feed you your physical food, then you stay to get spiritual food as well)

She has experienced us living life…a life that comes with “victories” in being a good mom and caretaker of our home and the people within it, but also a life with a whole lot of defeats in being kind, patient or caring. But somehow even in all the messiness and sin, seeds of the Gospel, of “God with us”,  have been planted. And in a season of navigating through the roller coaster of postpartum emotions and a sinking thought-life, God in his mercy let me see glimmers of hope that He is working in , and in spite of the messiness.

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That early morning rising, I pulled the letter out from under the pillow in order to replace it with “tooth fairy money”.

Little did I know, that note would glimmer.

Glimmer with a “God is at work!” sighting.

A flash of light, encouragement…

that He is on a mission to win people’s hearts to Himself, and He can even use a family like ours, messy as it is.

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“God loves you”

Since when did kids care about telling the tooth fairy that God loved them?

Since they started seeing that God loves a home full of fun and bickering…. and joy and hardship…. and impatience and delights in the moments….and intentional rhythms and its-all-unravelling-just-go-play free-for-all’s.

When they start going to church with you, and then recruit their mom (who lives on the other side of town) to take them each Sunday.

When they experience a “family”, whether its perfect or not.

When they get back from school and come to a “home” , even one that is messy and unorganized and may or may not have snacks available based on when mom actually dragged six kids to the grocery store.

~~~~~

Then God confirmed it again, a few days later, that He is working despite the messy offerings, when this neighbor-turned-family member’s mom stopped by, and behind tears and a thick Ethiopian accent tells me of a school writing project in which her daughter described each member of our family and what they all play and do together and how they are like the brothers and sisters she never had. And that thick Ethiopian accent confessed how hard it is for her daughter to be passed back and forth between divorced parents with no siblings to come along, but that God provided a family for her to be part of through ours.

And then somehow all those tough pregnancies were worth it.  And all the mundane laborings to run the household seem worth it. And those early morning risings after long nights with sick or needy children, were worth it. Even when the thoughts that accompanied them sometimes sounded more like a temper tantrum than a joyful offering to the Lord.

“What where we THINKING?!?! Having SIX children?! I’m not gonna survive this!! I can’t face another day of needs and spills and mouths to feed….(Its always a bad sign when you’re counting down to bedtime starting at 6 a.m.).

But still, God, in his enduring love and faithfulness, let me see that those prayers prayed, even prayed inconsistently, that God would use our children from young ages to bring Him glory and draw others to Him, they are answered….

…in a note to the tooth fairy.

Moving forward in weakness

On the steps of the church

On the steps of the church…miraculous gathering of body and attention span (sort of)

It had been a frazzling day. (Come to think of it, every day is a frazzling one with six kids).
That Sunday we had ushered those six kids out the door early in the morning to attend worship at our “sending church”. We had scooted downtown to attend an event at the sight of the new after school program starting up, stopped by the house we are renovating, and were headed to the evening service of the church where Danny is interning for the year. As we rounded the corner, we spotted Mike, one of our future neighbors  walking down the street. I quick rolled down the window, had Danny pull over and called out to him, “Mike! Hop in, we’re headed to church!”

He hopped in, told us about how he had wanted to go to church that morning but had overslept, and it was perfect timing that we had seen him as he walked to the grocery store.

We sat in worship, and I struggled to stay focused at times, when my days are so full and flustered, it’s difficult to keep my brain from being so as well. My mind wanders…..
I feel so weak. I feel like I’m running on fumes. I feel like six kids fills up every waking every single moment of every single twenty-four hour time segment.

And we are suppose to be starting a church soon.

The last time we worked on starting a church, we were ten years younger. That was six kids and a whole lot less responsibility ago. We were full of energy, drive, eternal optimism, and naïveté. We ran programs, put together outreaches, offered hospitality and loved on a lot of people. We poured every waking (and sometimes,even non-waking) moment into ministering to those God had placed in our lives in Newark.

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Christmas outreach at the church plant in Newark. Daniel Josiah could still be toted around in a back pack carrier….six kids won’t fit on my back anymore…

 

Now we are suppose to be starting a church and we are older, more tired. Not tired of Kingdom work, but tired from getting up 3-4 times a night with whichever kids is sick, having bad dreams, or wets the bed. Six kids with a range of needs-sports schedules and nursing schedules, school projects and potty training endeavors, social commitments and diaper changes…its a full time job….for three people. I used to run from one massive outreach to another and now I run to one crisis mess after another. The time between each meal, I mean, kitchen explosion is a mere three hours…on a good day.  I have so little left to give after tending to half a dozen kids day in and day out. How are we going to have the energy to pour ourselves out like we did last time? How is Danny going to be able to lead us all in this endeavor when he’s currently half-crippled with a shoulder that is still 6-10 months away from full recovery? How are we going to battle the sin and disfunction in our new community, when the sin and disfunction already runs deep…in our own home, in my own heart?

the half dozen

the half dozen

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you can only imagine the discord X 6 when they don't feel like cooperating...

you can only imagine the discord multiplied by six when they don’t feel like cooperating…

We filed out of our rows to go up to receive communion. I partake in faith. A weak one.

I slumped back into my seat, head bent over, laying it all out to a Jesus who sometime feels far.

I feel a strong arm squeeze my shoulder and pat me on the back.

I look up to see Mike’s dark skin in contrast to the pale walls.

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Mike worshipping next to Danny, different skin colors, same needy heart

 

He.gets.it?

He.gets.it.

He gets that this is hard. He sat in that car and heard all the fires I put out concerning children’s needs in just the 15 minutes that we drove across town.

Mike has his own set of struggles and hardships. And I have mine. And did we not just eat of the same table? The one that represents the Bread of Heaven that has promised to satisfy hungry souls?

When we moved to Newark, I knew I “had” the bread and my job was to hand it out to everyone. Now, I’m just as starving for it as our soon-to-be new neighbors who know street life and struggle far better than I.

We are moving into this mission as common beggars toward the same God. How different from the “I’ve come to bring you the Savior ” mentality I had as we entered the ministry in Newark ten years ago. Now, I’ve got a “I’m desperately clinging to the Savior. You want to help each other along on the journey?” mentality.

I needed that squeeze on the shoulder from Mike every bit as much as he needed a ride to church. We’re in the same boat, him and me. And maybe our presence in each other’s lives will be the very thing that keeps us looking out on the water towards the One who walks on it, instead of looking at the waves that threaten to crush us under it.

It’s a weak place to be…just barely catching one’s breath in between the rolling waves of raising six children.  But a perfect place for our Savior to walk through.

For the humbled place, the weak place, the struggling place is often the place where He likes to show up.  He did it when he showed up in the womb of an unwed Jewish teenager.  He did it when he showed up in a stable to sleep amongst the farm animals.  He did it when He walked and talked among the poor folk, the outcasts, the unclean and the unlawful.

So my only prayer, our only hope, is that He shows up in the weak place again. The weak, but available place of my heart, and our marriage, and this home, and that neighborhood that He’s called us to move into.

So we move. Move forward in weakness.

But there’s that promise about weakness.

A promise that HIS power is made perfect there.

So we go. with weakness, yes, but with availability, and expectation that somehow God’s spoken word will truly create an image of His power being perfected…not just despite the weakness….

but IN it.

 

But he said to me,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,

so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

Dormant Prayers and New Growth that Emerges

It was like they had all laid dormant.

But then finally growth begins to emerge where simple seeds of prayer had lain buried in the soil of the will of God.

You see, I had met Tahra, a Muslim Bangladeshi woman about my age,  last December, while I was trying to coordinate hosting international students in people’s homes for Christmas. Her English teacher had told me she was really struggling with the recent death of her mother, and caring for her 4 year old paralyzed son, and the four year wait for her husband to be able to join her from Bangladesh.

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Bangladeshi women are always beautifully clad. The women that are able to immigrate to America are so thankful to be here, rather than there, generally. In Tahra’s case, her son would not still be alive if she had not had access to American healthcare.

So I called her up and asked if I could come visit her and bring her some food.

I remember pulling up to the small house, the one that housed not only her but several other Bangladeshi families, with all my kiddos in-tow, and saying “Lord, I’m nervous, but I’m showing up. You’re going to have to take care of the rest.”

We ended up having a great conversation, as I know well the overwhelming loss she was experiencing, and I prayed with her and promised to come visit her again soon.

Two weeks later, I found out I was pregnant.

I eeked out enough strength to make a couple more visits, even getting to read Scripture to her and pray it over her son, who lay there hooked up to breathing treatments.

But those visits were few and far between.

Most days I was just barely surviving, without even the strength and energy to feed my own family, much less reach out to Tahra and stay connected in her life.

The guilt pressed in, but the prayers bled out as I laid there on the couch, or bed, or floor and thought about her, and all I wanted to do for her.

Prayers from afar was all I had to offer her.

And in those long months of growing a child, those prayers seemed to lay dormant.

And I asked the Lord, “How is she ever going to know the love and power of Christ, if the people with the Presence of Christ never show up in her life?!?”

And those prayers mingled with guilt and frustration continued to be planted until…

until life started to sprout out of those dormant prayers…

In the slower-paced summer months, I started to regain some strength so I tried to reach out again.

One afternoon’s text: “Hi Tahra! How are you doing? I’m sorry I’ve been so out of contact with you!”

Her response sent my heart soaring….

What church do you go to?

was all she said.

“What?!?!“My mind started racing… “Why on earth is she asking THAT? What have you been up to, Lord?!?”

I quickly found out that she had actually gotten a driving ticket and needed to do 20 hours of community service and needed to find a church to do them at.

I most certainly did have a church where she could do them.

It wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, but I would take it!

The next two weeks, the Lord filled a tired, pregnant mamma with supernatural energy to make phone calls, give rides, and help Tahra her get all her community service hours done by the two week deadline.

It was her two week crash course on being a Christ follower.

Through a school supply outreach, she learned why we Christians serve the underprivileged…not because we are earning points with God but because He served us in the Person of Jesus Christ who went to the underprivileged and showed them who God really was, and then died for them so that they could know Him for themselves.

Through helping out with the kids program, she learned that we teach our kids very similar morals to those that her Muslim faith holds dear, but for a different reason….because those morals exhibit the holiness of God, and if His Holy Spirit lives in us, then those will be the morals that come out of our lives as followers of Him .

Through the helping at the food pantry for the neediest of our community…we spoke of our neediness being the best thing for us.  We can only truly know God if we bring him our neediness, not our best efforts.  Jesus died for sinners in need of salvation, not sinners in need of better rules to follow.

Through working with other Christians at a church dinner, she learned of the kindness of the people who claim Jesus as their Lord.

Through helping with a church service, and she sat and listened to Randy Pope explain how we can listen to God and why we can listen to God-because Jesus lives to intercede between us and a Holy God.

And she witnessed us taking communion in that church service, and as I ushered my kids up to go receive it, I whispered to her that I would explain it all later.

And I did.

But not just to her.

That night as I ate their post-sunset Ramadan meal with them, I got to share the reason Christians partake of communion, the Lord’s supper. with her extended family in that Bangladeshi bungalow. (it was all women…the husbands and fathers were at work)

Starting with the very beginning, in Genesis we talked of the need for death of animals to cover Adam and Even’s nakedness in their sin, then went on to the story of Abraham and the death of the lamb instead of his son, Isaac (not Ishmael, as the Koran says), to Moses and the passover as God delivered them from death and slavery. We talked of the night before Jesus’ death, as he celebrated the Passover with his disciples, and his declaration that all those hundreds of years that the Jews celebrated that feast, it was really all leading up to, pointing to HIM.  The Passover Lamb.  And we Christians continue to eat of that feast, to remind us, that none is worthy. That we need a sacrifice for us to replace the life-debt we owe for our rebellion.  That Christ was that sacrifice, but because He was God and man at the same time, he rose again from death, therefore conquering it once and for all, for those who trust in His Name.

We spoke of the difference between the Koran and the Bible, and the commands that Mohammed gave verses the salvation that Jesus freely offers.

I sang those women the Scripture song I made up for my children.

“Romans 3:21-24”

But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law has been made known, to which the law and prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe-there is no difference… For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace, through redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

 

And after our three hour discussion, I left that home, rejoicing in the power of prayer to a Living God.

Those prayers had lain dormant for a time.

But, God was waiting.

Waiting for a driving violation.

Waiting for a judge to assigned 20 hours of community service at a local church.

Waiting for some renewed strength for me, so I could show up again in Tahra’s life.

Waiting for the season that He ordained, for the message of his salvation and love to be planted in not just Tahra’s life, but her family’s life as well.

So, while those prayers seemed to lay dormant,

God was working all along.

Waiting for spring, when new life would emerge.

Prayer, too, has its seasons.

10 years

10 years.

This past week we celebrated 10 years of marriage.

A marriage that we embarked on, young, energetic, incredibly in love…and ready to change the world.

A marriage that we prayed over-that God would fulfill his promise in Psalm 67

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us…”

but we didn’t just want the blessing….we wanted the purpose of the blessing….

“so that your ways might be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. “

And the evening we went to celebrate that 10 year long marriage, God showed his blessing and he enabled us to see a tiny glimpse of Him using it to make His ways known on earth, in real people’s lives.

~~~~~~~~~

10 year anniversary celebrated with baby #6 along as a chaperone....or because I'm his food source

10 year anniversary celebrated with baby #6 along as a chaperone….or because I’m his food source

The day had filled Danny’s inbox with 120 sweet memories of our 120 months of marriage, and countless recountings of situations that God has provided in, shown His faithfulness in, and delivered us in, times of laughter and tears, accounts of being led and directed by the same Spirit that had brought us together to begin with.

The evening had brought a demand to be dressed up and ready to go by 6:30, childcare was lined up and reservations had been made.

When we arrive on site, a table had previously been spread with flowers and a poem.  While I had been typing out all those memories and emailing Danny every half hour during the day, that husband of mine had also been reflecting over these past ten years….and had penned a poem.

~~~~~~~~

Seasons of Joy and Seasons of Tears  By Daniel Iverson IV

 The days of gazing into your beautiful eyes

Have slowly turned into beautiful years

We have walked through the valleys and flown in the skies

In seasons of joy and seasons of tears

 

We discovered our children through passion and love

Their voices of magic still filling our ears

Their laughter and weeping remind our hearts of

These seasons of joy and these seasons of tears

 

For better or worse, in sickness and health

Through thunder and rainbows we’ve learned how to steer

In danger or safety, in wanting or wealth

These seasons of joy and these seasons of tears

 

The sunrise remembers the light of His grace

As we walk through the dark without any fear

His promise unites us, our hearts set ablaze

Through seasons of joy and seasons of tears.

 

In every encounter, my beautiful wife

My joy is unleashed, when your face appears

To have and to hold you beside me for life

In seasons of joy, and seasons of tears

 For my Beautiful Bride Kimberly, on our 10th Anniversary – September 18th, 2014

~~~~~~~

And while we chatted, and talked about the past and looked ahead to the future, every time our waitress came by I couldn’t help but sense that she was carrying some sort of weight around with her. After our lovely dinner, and our sweet time together I planned to ask her if she had anything we could pray about for her.

But he beat me to it.

Once again, right there on the anniversary of the Spirit leading us together in marriage, the Spirit would impress upon our hearts and minds the same things….so that the Spirit could flow through us to make God known to someone who needed Him.

“Hey, Brianna, is there anything we could pray about for you?”,

my husband inquires as she fills glasses again.

Wow

She says.

Yes, actually there is! But let me go take those people’s order and I’ll be right back. “

After several minutes she came back, and but she didn’t just mention a grandma with cancer, or a dad that needed a job, or a desire to be happy and blessed.

No, she pulled up a chair to our table and started sharing her burden…

“Ok, so I’m in the army. and when I was at my last station out in California, some sergeants and I decided to go swimming in this lake while we were on our day off.  So one of the sergeant’s and I decided to go kinda far out to a set of rocks, and half way out he started dog paddling and looking worried. I asked him if he was OK and he said yes. 

So we kept going. 

We were closer to the rocks, but he still looked like he was really struggling. I asked him if he was OK and he said yes, so we kept going. 

We finally made it to the rocks, and I climbed up and he was about to climb up to, when he went under. I started screaming for help, and tried to reach down for him, but the algae from the rocks made everything murky. I screamed and screamed for the rest of our friends and searched for him, but by the time they got over there, and we found him, he had been under water for 3-4 minutes.  We tried to do CPR but he didn’t make it.  

Tears were filling her eyes…

It’s killing me inside…he had a wife and three kids, and I constantly replay it in my mind and think what I could have done differently.  I feel like I’m going to explode. 

Then, as if that isn’t hard enough, one of the my other army friends committed suicide this past week. 

I feel like I’m drowning in grief and guilt.  I just don’t know how to cope with all this. I feel like I have to fake being happy, and just keep going, but I’m dying on the inside. The only reason I got this waitressing job was so that I don’t have to go home at night and think about it all. 

So we sat there, on our anniversary date, and because God had been gracious to us and blessed us with ten years of fidelity and commitment and love through the storms, we were celebrating at the table of a waitress who desperately needed the face of God to shine in her life. He had indeed blessed us, so that His ways may be known on the earth, to Brianna.

We prayed with her there, thanking Jesus for his death that conquers all death. We prayed over her brokenheartedness and  grief and guilt.  And we thanked Him that He himself wept over death, and He himself knows all the pain and agony we face because he dealt with it on the cross. We prayed that because He rose again, Brianna’s heart would rise again as well.

By this time she was really crying.

When we ended she tells us

You have no idea how much I needed this…. I feel like I have no one to talk to about all this. I know I should go back to church and all, but ever since my mom and dad split up, and my dad was a bishop in the church, I just said, “forget that!” But all this that I”m going through has really shown me that I DO need God in my life.

And that disclosure led to a whole new conversation, about “church” not being a magic fix, but a hospital for broken people, and a place to meet Jesus in. And she wrote down our church’s name and meeting times, and I gave her my contact card, and assured her we would continue to pray for her.

And as we drove home, we once again stood in awe of God’s goodness and faithfulness to answer our prayer that He would use our marriage to make God known….even to a waitress who desperately needed to know His presence.

The sweetest anniversary gift

with which too celebrate

10 years.

~~~~~~~

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and cause His face to shine upon us

so that your ways might be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. “

Psalm 67:1-2

~~~~~~~

“Your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  

Isaiah 30:20

**If you want to see what Danny did for our engagement, click here. 

If you want to see what he made for me for our five year anniversary, click here.

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